American Jews and Race: Past, Present, and (Charting a) Future

By :  The Jewish Theological Seminary Posted On Jul 21, 2020 | Social Justice

Our country currently faces a reckoning with structural racism. As Jews, we have faith that our tradition represents a moral voice for justice and equality. Yet we also recognize that we have often failed to fully heed that voice and so must confront the enduring influence of racial discrimination and white privilege in our community. JTS’s Hendel Center for Ethics and Justice presents a discussion with two leading thinkers on the issue.


Rabbi Sandra Lawson, associate chaplain for Jewish life, Elon University

Dr. Eric L. Goldstein, associate professor of history, Emory University

Rabbi Stephanie Ruskay, moderator, associate dean of The Rabbinical School and executive director of JTS’s Hendel Center for Ethics and Justice

About the Speakers

Rabbi Sandra Lawson received ordination from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in June 2018. She was born in St. Louis, Mo. and grew up in a military family. She graduated from Saint Leo University magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology. She also holds a Master of Arts degree in Sociology from Clark Atlanta University. Rabbi Sandra has served in the United States Army, as a Military Police person with a specialty in Military Police Investigations, specializing in cases involving child abuse and domestic violence. Upon leaving the military she started a personal training business and later worked as an Adjunct Instructor of Sociology at local community colleges. She has also served as the investigative researcher for the Anti-Defamation League’s Southeast Region, becoming the go-to person when Law Enforcement in the South needed information on hate groups. Rabbi Sandra uses her rabbinic training to bring Judaism to where people already are in their lives. As a rabbinical student, Rabbi Sandra received a prestigious grant to lead Shabbat services for unaffiliated Jews in a vegan cafe. She also received a grant to launch her podcast Minutes of Torah. Rabbi Sandra’s vision as a Rabbi is to help build a more inclusive Jewish community where all who want to come are welcomed, diversity is embraced and we can come together to learn and to pray. 

Dr. Eric L. Goldstein is Judith London Evans Director of the Tam Institute for Jewish Studies at Emory University, where he is also associate professor of History and Jewish Studies. He is author of The Price of Whiteness: Jews, Race, and American Identity (Princeton University Press, 2006) and, with Deborah R. Weiner, On Middle Ground: A History of the Jews of Baltimore (Johns Hopkins Press, 2018). He is a former editor of the quarterly scholarly journal American Jewish History.

Rabbi Stephanie Ruskay is associate dean of The Rabbinical School and executive director of JTS’s Hendel Center for Ethics and Justice. She has made her career in the Jewish social justice sector. Rabbi Ruskay has served in leadership positions at American Jewish World Service, Auburn Theological Seminary, AVODAH: The Jewish Service Corps, and JOIN for Justice. Rabbi Ruskay is an alumna of JTS’s Joint Program, The William Davidson School, and The Rabbinical School. She directs field education and entrepreneurial endeavors and is focused on raising the scope and profile of social justice work and community organizing skills in the role of the contemporary rabbi. She also serves as faculty for JustCity/CityStage Leadership Institute, JTS’s precollege program focusing on leadership and social justice. Rabbi Ruskay is a member of the social justice commission of the Rabbinical Assembly and of its Joint Placement Commission.

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